I was fortunate enough to be invited by the SAPSTAPPERS (the South African Police hiking group) to join them on this epic walk.
Oorlogskloof means “War Valley”, and at times on this hike I felt like I was at war, at war mostly with my thoughts, specially the first two and a half days.This is most certainly not a hike for beginners or those that suffer from acrophobia.
I will not bore you with a route description, as the map has a very detailed and accurate route description, and will rather try and touch onto some of the highlights of this incredibly beautiful hike.
Day one is very deceivingly easy, but if this day was any longer, the word easy might become profanity in most peoples vocabulary. The day is just long enough to let you know what you are in for in the next couple of days. The map indicates an estimated walking time of three hours, but we completed this section in just over two hours, and we were not very fit. It is however NOT recommended to join day two with day one.
Day two must be one of the most difficult 8.5km I have ever walked, and this sentiment was shared by the rest of our party.The terrain demands that you have to climb over and under huge boulders testing your balance and strength to the limit all the way. This makes for extremely slow and tiring hiking. Just when you think things cannot get any worse, you are faced with a massive uphill. I cannot imagine what this must be like on a hot, windless summers day, but one word comes to mind, torture.
As you approach the cliff face, you should hopefully see a waterfall. I say hopefully, because this means you will have water on the plateau above the cliff that you still have to negotiate. (We will get to the cliff part in a moment.) The waterfall poses a few challenges of its own. I have to admit here I was really wondering why I ever bothered coming on this hike. Maybe I just had a “head thing” but this bit honestly scared the daylights out of me. This section is extremely slippery, and should you get hurt here, I think it might take more than a while for help to arrive. You will agree with me once you have been there. DO NOT try and pass in front of the waterfall, walk into the waterfall and you will see a “cave” that you can pass through. This is the actually route and far safer than trying to walk around (in front) of the waterfall. The “cave” was a bit claustrophobic for some, but for me a welcome relief after the waterfall.
A few metres after the waterfall the last horrendous piece of uphill for the day awaits you. Here I could actually see my fellow hikers minds working overtime, wondering how we were going to get down this steep bit first thing in the morning. I was just too glad that the day was over and all I could think of was a good wash and something relaxing at the end of this long hard day.
Needless to say the steep downhill down to the Oorlogskloof River awaits you first thing in the morning. After the hike we were fortunate enough to speak to Wessel (the guy that actually built this trail) and he told us that in the beginning days of the hike there was no huge “stairs” leading up the cliff face, and it was a wild scramble getting to the top and down again. I shudder to think what this must have been like. Another interesting fact, it took Wessel and his team a year to build the few steps that lead up to the plateau.
If the river is not in flood it is an easy hop across the boulders to the other side. I would not have enjoyed it to much inching myself across the “bridge” if the river was in flood. Those poplar poles looked like they have had more than their fare share of sun and with my weight on them.…No I rather don’t want to go there.
Once you have crossed the river you are greeted by the last big uphill of the hike, but all the time I was wondering “what has Wessel got in store for us this time?”, as there is no visible path up the sheer cliff face. My jaw fell to the ground when I saw the chimney. “How did Wessel find this? He must have spent hundreds of hours in this beautiful landscape, fine combing every little nook and cranny. The chimney must be about two stories high, but thankfully there is a chain that you can pull yourself up with. Right after the chimney there is still one more little “hairy” piece, then after that the hike is plain sailing. The 1.5 km from Driefontuin to the top of the chimney took us three hours. That is extremely slow going.
On the plateau about five minutes after the chimney, we came across the first of the two Black Spitting Cobras, busy consuming a rabbit. We were overjoyed to have witnessed such a rare an occasion.The next sighting was the very next day when one of the hikers almost stepped on the snake. Fortunately the snake got a bigger fright than we did and quickly made its escape.
Much later the afternoon we finally arrived at Doltuin, where a welcoming swim/wash was to be had.
Day four is by far the longest day, but somehow the 17km just “flew” by. Do not be put of by the distance and opt for the escape route, as this is the most beautiful day of this five day hike. Most of our party however did opt for the escape route and the three of us that were left completed this section in just over five hours. Once again, how Wessel found all these caves and arches is truly amazing. He made a huge effort so that we hikers see all the best landmarks in a short space of time.
Pramkoppie campsite also has a little river flowing behind it, where a cool down after a days walking is always welcome, but once again I wonder if this stream will have water in the height of summer.
The last day of a great five day hike always leaves a bitter sweet taste in my mouth. Bitter because I am sad to leave the peace and quiet of the wilderness, and new friends that were made and sweet because once again I can enjoy the trappings of modern life , such as a hot shower, my own bed and something ice cold to drink.
The walk back to your vechile is once again an easy walk, with great views over the Knersvlakte. Driving back home and looking up at the mountains that you have just spent five days in, you cannot believe that there is so much beauty in this very unforgiving dry landscape.
Photos by Andre, Wynand, Divan and Jens
This is Helgas experience of Oorlogskloof
Rock Pigeon Route
Be warned – this place is hot and DRY. We have attempted this hike twice before our third successful completion…in winter. The summer months everything is DRY. We almost died of extreme heat exhaustion and de-hydration. Trust me, not a pretty sight! This is an account then of the last and least dry hike.
The air was still as we entered the Nieuwoudsville hotel – the local bar lady, Wouterien, kept our glasses filled. Some last minute shopping at the local China-man shop produced some sun glasses and rather odd-looking plakkies (slops)for one of the boys. Here we start. The going is slow but the scenery is beautiful. Over and under many rocks and hills. Day one is over and we are glad the “worst is over” (ha-ha). We make a massive fire and sleep in pre-pitched tents. There are no ablution facilities on this hike.
The terrain is SUPER challenging – boulders upon boulders to climb under, over, around, hug, slide on – the boulders are just never-ending. It reminds one of the first two days of the Fish River Canyon Hike. Plenty of minor injuries are sustained; most hikers’ legs look like war zones! This is not called Oorlogskloof for no reason. We are all tired and the worst is still to come – the waterfall! Climbing up the wet waterfall to reach the Closter-phobic chimney behind it and crawl through…what an ordeal! Scary but exciting! “Iron man” is standing in the down-pour of the waterfall – taking all the rucksacks and helping everyone along. Peter helped at the chimney (through and behind the waterfall) moving all the heavy cargo and helping everyone to safety. Further on we follow giant steps and ladders over meters of nothing and we are eventually on top of the plateau!
We are all happy to be ALIVE and settle down at camp to braai with a very well deserved dop (drink).
Some of the guys have been sleeping outside and the cold & lack of sleep is evident. This day takes us down the steep plateau and up another. We are sweating! More ups and downs and around our favourite boulders and all of a sudden, hallo, a massive chimney to pull yourself up in! Rucksacks are being passed on. Then, around the shoulder of this chimney and through a loop and then, pull yourself up by a chain over a sheer drop of around 30+ meters! Hair razing especially when the strong guys in front of you are starting to panic and there is no way back! One very athletic guy in front of me was paralyzed with fear — not very motivating I can tell you! Many a prayer was answered that day – we all made it!
The Camp site is hot and barren and Deon goes for an unplanned swim with all this kit in the pool just before the camp. It is hot with very little shade. However, it is Waldo’s Birthday and we start the celebrations. Janice brings out the sparkles and we are all kids again. The night is very cold and frost is all over our stuff the next morning.
This is to be a long day (17km) with no water. Part of our group decides to take the short cut. The walk is great for both groups but hot. The longer route runs right around the plateau overlooking the large “Kners-vlakte”. The camp site is well situated under lush trees with a beautiful river. The wine is taken out and soon the group is as one again. We fall asleep but not for long, here comes the rain! Everyone sleeping outside finds a space in a tent and the rain continues right throughout the night and the next day.
Day 5 — The last day:
We get up in the rain, pack in the rain, walk in the rain, get very wet and eventually, gratefully reach the cars. We are glad we did it but also glad to have ended this war!
Helga de Goede
Day two must be one of the most difficult days that I have ever hiked. To make matters worse, the first two times that we did the hike we were promised water at he campsite, but there was none. So both times we had to walk down to the river. With some difficulty we found the little rivulet seeping out of the rock, at the bottom campsite. The water was ice cold and fresh. On both times the water in the river was fairly stagnant, and if you are going to drink this water, water purifying drops is an absolute must.
|Tel no||027 2181159||G.P.S.||–31.438654,19.07698 (I am not 100% sure about these co ordinates as I did not have the gps with, but this is close to the start)|
|Nearest Town||Niewoudtville||Max Persons|
|Distance from Town||Overnight Shelter||Small 3 man tents|
|Map to start of hike||Brochure|
|No of days||1 – 7, depending on the route||Trail Type||Circular|
|Tips and things to do|